Genital warts can appear after infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). You can pick up this virus during sexual contact with someone who is infected. For this reason, genital warts are classified as an STD, or sexually transmitted disease. Genital warts are not dangerous, but they are unpleasant. Fortunately, they are very treatable. The warts can come back over time, however.
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What are genital warts?
Warts on the genitals and/or anus are known as genital warts. The cause: the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are around 100 variants of this virus. The species that are responsible for genital warts are type 6 and type 11.
HPV is highly contagious. Worldwide, more than 50% of people who are sexually active are infected with one of the many human papillomaviruses. In most cases, this happens unnoticed.
Genital warts, together with chlamydia, are among the most common STDs. Young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are the most affected.
Not everyone with an HPV type 6 or 11 infection actually gets genital warts. Or the warts may only develop at a much later time; the incubation time of genital warts is 1 to 8 months. But HPV is still contagious in the meantime. As a result, you can also get genital warts from someone who is infected but has no symptoms (yet). In this way, you can pass on the virus yourself without noticing.
Genital warts symptoms
Genital warts look a bit like ‘normal’ warts. The most common general symptoms of genital warts are:
- Lumps with a cauliflower-like structure on, in or around the genitals and/or anus;
- They often appear in groups;
- Genital warts have a greyish white or pinkish red colour;
- The warts may cause itchiness, pain and/or a burning sensation. They can also be painless;
- The warts often go away by themselves. However, this can take quite a long time (about 1 to 2 years). If you want to get rid of the warts earlier, you can have them treated;
- HPV often remains dormant in the body. The warts can also come back, even after a course of treatment.
Genital warts in men (male genital warts)
Specific symptoms of genital warts in men are:
- Warts on the penis;
- Discharge from the penis;
- Warts on the glans (head of the penis);
- Warts on the scrotum;
- Warts around or in the anus.
Genital warts in women (vaginal genital warts)
Specific symptoms of genital warts in women are:
- Vaginal warts (in the vagina and/or around the entrance of the vagina);
- Vaginal discharge;
- Warts around the clitoris;
- Warts around or in the anus;
- Uncommon: warts on the cervix. These are not visible from the outside.
Genital warts are not dangerous. But they can create a sense of shame.
Causes of genital warts
The human papillomavirus spreads during intimate physical contact between the genitals and during contact with the anus. If these areas are touched with the fingers or a sex toy, it can also spread that way. You could also get HPV if, for example, you share a towel with an infected person.
Preventing genital warts
Safe sex is the most important measure you can take to prevent genital warts. However, a condom does not provide 100% protection against HPV. Therefore also pay attention to hygiene (do not share sex toys, and always use your own towel and washcloths).
There is a vaccine that protects against the virus that causes genital warts. However, this vaccine only works if the virus is not yet present in the body. A doctor or health service can tell you more about this.
Testing for genital warts
There is no specific blood or urine test for genital warts. You (or a doctor) can recognise them with the naked eye. If you have genital warts, it is more likely that you have also contracted another STD. It is therefore wise to do a general STD test. You can do this at a GP's office or using a self-test kit.
Genital warts treatment
Although genital warts often disappear by themselves, many people choose to treat them. With a genital warts treatment, the unsightly and sometimes painful nodules disappear a lot faster.
There are several methods for treating genital warts.
Genital wart creams and medicines
Doctors fight genital warts with a viral inhibitor or antiviral. The active substance in this medicine inhibits the growth of the human papillomavirus, which means that it can no longer spread. This will make the warts disappear.
This genital warts treatment involves medicines that are applied locally. Examples of these medicines are:
- Podophyllotoxin. This is a cream or a liquid. The product is applied to the warts twice a day for 3 days a week. The course lasts a number of weeks, up to a maximum of 4 to 5 weeks;
- Imiquimod. This antiviral cream is applied once a day. You treat the warts with this medicine every other day. This genital warts treatment may last up to 16 weeks;
- Sinecatechins. This ointment is applied to the warts three times a day. The duration of treatment may not exceed 16 weeks.
Please keep in mind that medicines for genital warts can cause side effects in some cases. You may experience skin irritation. Make sure you always protect the surrounding, healthy skin, for example by applying a greasy ointment. Always read the package leaflet carefully before use. And always wash your hands thoroughly after applying the product.
Please note that these medicines are not suitable for pregnant women.
Alternative genital warts treatment
If you do not want or are not allowed to take any medications, you can contact a doctor for an alternative genital warts treatment. There are various options:
- Treat the warts with trichloroacetic acid. This usually only needs to be done once a week for at least two weeks;
- Freeze the warts with liquid nitrogen. This method is also suitable for pregnant women;
- Remove the warts with an electric needle. This can sometimes be done at the GP, or otherwise in a hospital.
Prescription medication for genital warts
Many medicines for genital warts require a prescription. You can request a suitable course of treatment at Dokteronline. Your request will be assessed by a doctor based on the medical questionnaire you have completed. A written prescription will then be forwarded to a pharmacy, after which the prescribed medication will be discreetly delivered to your home. Would you like more information about treatments for genital warts? Feel free to consult a doctor or pharmacist.